"Beyond the Physical"
A Shabbat Message from Rabbi Leiken
I found myself terrified while watching the Wizard of Oz – but not just during the scenes when the Witch was shown. I was particularly terrified of the Wizard, that powerful entity that ruled Oz and excoriated Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow as they dared ask him for help.
Of course, what made the Wizard of Oz so frightening was not simply that loud voice and certainly not the little man that stood behind the curtain. What made the Wizard so frightening and powerful was the fact that for the first half of the movie, he was unseen.
We know that in movies or books, keeping characters hidden helps to draw us to them. Like Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird or Kayzer Soze in The Usual Suspects, we are taken with characters that are not readily available to us.
In the Torah, God is largely unseen. Although often described in human terms as walking in the garden or getting angry and jealous, we are told that no one but Moses will ever see God face-to-face. The Israelites are told to never draw an image of God, so as to somehow falsely assume that God can be easily be brought into the physical world.
In the last few weeks, we have been reading about the mishkan – a building that the Israelites are commanded to create for God. Importantly, we learn that this space is not meant to be God, but rather a physical area for God to reside. The mishkan is a means for a people consumed with the physical to meet a God that is beyond it.
In this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites are waiting for Moses to come down the mountain with the Torah. As Moses takes his time, they panic and create for themselves a golden calf – an object which they can see and they can touch – an object that is right there, directly in front of them, for all of their senses to be aware of…
Gone is the mystery of God – and right there in front of them is the very physical calf…
We who depend on the physical – on that which can be seen and heard and touched and felt – we often grow impatient with anything that exists beyond – we want it here and now – and simply cannot stand the idea of there being anything that we cannot grasp with our senses.
But the most powerful aspects of our lives are often beyond the physical – whether it be the characters in our favorite stories, whether it be feelings we have such as love or yes, whether it actually be God– we know that the most meaningful facets of our lives are often those which exists beyond the tangible…
The sin of the golden calf is ultimately the false belief that everything exists for us in this physical world, that everything – should we choose it, is somehow immediately available to us behind a curtain – ready for us to manipulate, control and maintain. Meaning in life is found in the realization that there is more to this world than the objects we own and purchase and manipulate.